Watch suppliers

Oil, metal and noise


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October 2023

Oil, metal and noise

You will indulge me in my use of the first person, for once. For two months, my sole occupation has been visiting the factories that make watch movements – the beating heart of a watch.


ithout these workshops there would be no Swiss watch industry. There would be craftsmen, artists perhaps, but no one capable of producing this vital engine by the millions, the hundreds of thousands, the tens of thousands, down to a handful. For an industry to be worthy of the name, it must be able to meet all needs, from the most exceptional to the most “standard”.

One of my interlocutors candidly admitted: “The business model of the movement manufacturer is flawed. We take on all the risks and burdens of development, production issues, procurement and the cost of materials. Not to mention decreasing order volumes. And our profit margins are very slim.”

His intention was not to complain, but it’s true that, more often than not, movement manufacturers are virtually sworn to silence. Many customers demand the utmost discretion – as if there’s something shameful in admitting what your ads fail to mention: that your exquisite timepieces are the product of machines, noise and grease… and in fact, it might not have been you that got your hands dirty.

But above all, what they fail to point out – either because they haven’t noticed, or because they’ve never considered it – is that behind everything, there are people. People who work the machines, operate and guide them. And I can say from personal experience that these people are incredible. Making a watch is not all fun. It involves grease and machinery, and a huge amount of knowledge and experience to operate them. It also requires endless patience, extreme precision, an affinity for very small things, a keen eye, precise thinking, a mathematical brain, expertise in metallurgy, chemistry, tribology, “secrets”, powders, potions and elixirs. Not forgetting experience, resilience and a lot of hard work.

Is it a coincidence that almost all movement manufacturers, great and small, are located in the Jura region? One thing is certain: all these companies, and the people who work there, share a similar outlook. You can sense their communal spirit, built on shared values and lived experience, and their unique, possibly more lucid, perspective on the ins and outs of the watch industry. With a watch movement, there’s no room for bullshit: it either works or it doesn’t (or it works badly). With a finished watch, it’s different. The dirtier the hands, the clearer the sight..

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